This paper wrestles with the issue of marginality in the globalized/digitalized context within Cameroon Anglophone literature. It holds that there is a triple marginality inherent in Cameroon Anglophone literature which needs to be urgently redressed/reversed. This is because we live in an era wherein constantly innovating information and communication technologies (ICTs) have revolutionized all spheres of human life levelling hitherto rough terrains and yet opening more confrontational zones and dichotomies.
The main thrust of the paper is that this triple marginality is discernible at the international/continental, national, and intra-group levels. In fact, Cameroon literature—both Cameroon Anglophone and Cameroon Francophone literatures—is marginalized on the African and world literary landscape; within Cameroon literature, Cameroon Anglophone literature is also marginalized; and within Cameroon Anglophone literature, some writers equally suffer from complexes of minority and marginalization. Within the context of both African continental (and by extension world) and Cameroon literatures, Cameroon Anglophone literature is relegated—consciously and/or unconsciously—to the marginal sphere according to the postcolonial dichotomy of center/margin (Ashcroft et al 1995:86). Huggan (2001:20) designates this sort of marginality as an “oppositional discursive strategy”. The third form of marginality identified within Cameroon Anglophone literature is authorial marginality (see Dvigubski, 2012:3; Bradatan and Craiutu, n.d.:4) which Labang (2012) refers to as “academic gangsterism”. It is by studying arenas of African literary exhibition such as African Literature Association (ALA) annual reports, reviewing related literary scholarly documents and citing some literary artists that the paper buttresses and illustrates its arguments. After mapping out the said problem of triple marginality, we proceed to identifying and/or suggesting possible measures aimed at reversing the trends.
Graham Huggan’s notion of marginality and Ashcroft et al’s concept of postcolonial dichotomies jointly inform the arguments in the paper. Consequently, it suffices to shed some light on marginality here. Because the definition of this concept is too broad, it would be appropriate to focus on the aspects that are central to this paper. Everett Stonequist remarks that a marginal person is “one who is poised in psychological uncertainty between two (or more) social worlds, reflecting in his soul the discords and harmonies, repulsions and attractions of these worlds; one of which is often ‘dominant’ over the other” (qtd. Bradatan and A. Craiutu, n.d.). Building on Stonequist’s definition, Bradatan and Craiutu hold that “‘marginal’ thinkers or texts are those that are neither altogether forgotten nor perceived as being worthy of sustained academic and public attention” (ibid). For Germani marginality is “the lack of participation of individuals and groups in those spheres in which, according to determined criteria, they might be expected to participate” (qtd in Ngwira 2013:3). In a similar manner, Yung Young-Lee asserts that in the process of marginalization “Centres are created within margins; margins are also created within centres” (ibid). The International Geographical Union (IGU) (2003:2), cited by Gurung and Kollmair (2005:10), defines marginality as “the temporary state of having been put aside of living in relative isolation, at the edge of a system (cultural, social, political or economic), […] in mind, when one excludes certain domains or phenomena from one’s thinking because they do not correspond to the mainstream philosophy.”
From the foregoing, it emerges that marginality includes forced exclusion, lack of recognition and even indecision among people, places and ideas/philosophies; marginalized people, places and ideas/philosophies are caught between worlds and are usually deprived of existing and exercising their functions where and when they rightfully and morally ought to. This is where postcolonial dichotomies set in, especially that of center/margin, main/ sub, east/west, and canon/sub-standard. Marginality embodies perpetual, mutual confrontation as centers are created within margins and margins within centers-margins strive to become centers thereby turning previous centers into margins. Let us turn now to the elaboration of various levels of marginality within Cameroon Anglophone literature.
Triple Marginality in Cameroon Anglophone Literature
Marginality in Cameroon Anglophone literature is quantified as triple because it is discernible at three levels—the international/continental, national, and intra-group levels. Each of these levels of marginality will be discussed below.
At the international level, to an extent, Cameroon literature—both Cameroon Anglophone and Cameroon Francophone literatures—is marginalized on the African and world literary landscape. However, it is worth noting that this marginalization is much more pronounced in relation to Cameroon Anglophone Literature given that Cameroun Francophone literature (Cameroon literature of French expression, with names such as Mongo Beti, Ferdinand Oyono, Patrice Nganang, Léonora Miano, Calixthe Beyala, among others) alongside literature from other Francophone African countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Senegal is considerably visible in some African literature departments in the western world, especially African literatures in French. Cameroon is strategically located between west and central Africa where she enjoys membership in many subregional organizations, but her literature is “vibrant but [somehow] invisible” (Tande 2009: n.p.) within Africa (and the world at large).
Nevertheless, this is more applicable to Cameroon Anglophone literature than to Cameroon Francophone literature. Literary giants like Ghana and Nigeria in the west, Kenya in the east, Egypt and Algeria in the north, and South Africa in the south overwhelmingly dominate Cameroon literature on the continental and international levels. Internationally acclaimed literary scholars have often tended to neglect and marginalize Cameroon literature in their academic publications. In recognition of this fact, Tande, although referring more or less to Cameroon Anglophone literature, contends that this literature has been treated “as an appendix to Nigerian Literature!” (2009). He also cites some prominent scholars of Cameroon literature such as Bjornson,
BumaKor and Bate Besong who have either perpetrated or underscored the early treatment of Cameroon Anglophone literature as an appendix of Nigerian literature. To borrow from Moradewun Adejunmobi in “The Labours of the ALA Critic: Worldly, Writerly, Activist” (2015), who argues in defense, recognition and promotion of the African Literature Association scholars, one would say that: “In practice, many works of art by [Cameroonian] artists and artists of [Cameroonian] descent are excluded, occasionally for justifiable reasons, but much more frequently for unjustifiable reasons. […] Somehow and repeatedly, the authors from [Cameroon] are left out […] in the supposedly global accounting of world [and African] literature…” (pp. 4-5).
The African Literature Association (ALA)—the organizational hub of African literature especially in English and French languages—paradoxically serves as a place of both visibility and invisibility for Cameroon literature. In spite of Joyce Ashuntantang’s commendable effort of publishing a bibliography on Anglophone Cameroon literature in the ALA Bulletin of 2004 (See Ambanasom, 2008:1), the ALA 2014 Newsletter covertly displays the marginalization and/or invisibility of Cameroon literature at the international level. In this newsletter, the list of African literary writers and scholars who passed away within the last decade (2004-2014) includes only six Cameroonians, namely Mongo Beti, Francis Bebey, René Philombe, Hilarious Ambé, Bate Besong and Hansel Ndumbe Eyoh (African Literature Association Newsletter, 2014:10-11). It excludes/forgets/marginalizes Linus Asong, Kenjo wan Jumbam, Ferdinand Oyono, Mbella Sonne Dipoko, and a host of others who passed on within the same decade. The marginalization of Cameroon literature that this act depicts is further compounded by the fact that the same newsletter lists Hilarious Ambé and Bate Besong under two date entries. Under 2008, they are entered in descending order as Hilarious Ambé and Bate Besong and under 2006 they are entered in horizontal order as Drs Bate Besong and Hilarious Ambé. The undecided nature of these two entries is symbolic of the minority and undecided position of Cameroon literature in Africa and in the world. Regardless of the fact that these two scholars are both from Anglophone Cameroon, the fact that they are two in number seems to suggest the dual nature of literature from Cameroon—Cameroon Anglophone literature and Cameroun Francophone literature. Where then is Cameroon literature in Africa and in the world? This literature, including its writers and scholars, loiters on the margins of African and world literatures.
Cameroon Anglophone Literature: A Bourgeoning Literature in Search of a Market Place?
If gold rust, what then will iron do? For if a priest be foul in whom we trust/ No wonder that a common man should rust. . .
If Cameroon literature as a whole, albeit arguably, is marginalized or rendered invisible, what then will Cameroon Anglophone literature do? Within literature from Cameroon. Cameroon Anglophone literature is also marginalized; Cameroon Anglophone literature is, consciously and/or unconsciously, pushed to the marginal sphere according to the postcolonial dichotomy of center/margin (Ashcroft et al 1995:86). Such is the marginality that Graham Huggan designates as an “oppositional discursive strategy” (2001:20). Evidence of Cameroon Anglophone literature’s marginal and marginalized space on the Cameroonian literary landscape abounds. In 2008, Ambanasom, using Ashuntantang’s 2004 publication of a bibliography on CAMLIT in the ALA Bulletin, sought “to convince any doubting Thomas of the wide range of Anglophone Cameroon literary productivity” (ibid). And in 2009 Joyce Ashuntantang landscaped postcoloniality, showcasing the production and dissemination of Cameroon Anglophone Literature (Ashuntantang 2009a). In the same 2009, Patrice Nganang identified and decried literary apartheid in Cameroon, stating that
An intellectual crime is being committed in our country: that of segregation against Anglophone Cameroon Literature. The crime is unfolding before the very eyes of our national intellectuals, with our consent as stakeholders and, often spurred by our most respected, yet conniving francophone intellectuals.
Nganang is a Cameroonian from the Francophone background and his assertion qualifies him, arguably, as an apologist and ambassador of Cameroon Anglophone literature. Unfortunately, it seems Nganang’s indictment of the Francophone
Cameroonian intellectuals for the literary crimes against Cameroon Anglophone literature has not had its intended positive effects on the said literature. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that Gabriel D. Segallo’s “Cinquante années de literature camerounaise […] cinquante années de progrès?” cites close to a hundred Francophone
Cameroon writers and only three Anglophone Cameroonians, namely Mbella Sonne Dipoko, Bole Butake, and Linus Asong? Curiously enough, this paper was published in 2011, two years after that of Nganang.
Still in 2009, Dibussi Tande acknowledged the peripheral/marginal position of Cameroon Anglophone literature by qualifying it as a “vibrant but invisible” (2009: n.p.) literature. Tande further revealed that most internally acclaimed literary scholars of African Literature have often tended to neglect and marginalize Cameroon/Cameroun literature in their academic publications. He contends as follows:
When Albert Gerard was editing European Language Writing in Sub-Saharan Africa, Anglophone Cameroon was omitted. In a last ditch effort to save the situation, Stephen Arnold wrote a basic account of Anglophone Cameroon literature titled “Emergent English Writing in Cameroon” and it was included in the collection as an appendix to Nigerian Literature! In the same vein, Richard Bjornson’s seminal work on Cameroon, The African Quest for Freedom and Identity: Cameroonian Writing and National Experience barely makes mention of writers from Anglophone Cameroon. Although the book contains 528 pages and Bjornson’s research references are up to 1988, Bjornson only devotes less than twenty pages to Anglophone Cameroon Literature as a whole.
Despite arguments by some scholars like Kashim Ibrahim Tala that, by 1988 when Bjorson published his work, very few books existed on Cameroon Anglophone Literature, the above excerpt is clear evidence that Cameroon Anglophone literature is marginalized both within and without Cameroon. This is probably why Oscar Labang affirms that “[Cameroon Anglophone Literature] can comfortably be classified under Minority Literature. The definition and the very nature of this literature justifies this position” (2012: para 2). It is worth recalling that this literature suffers from inconsistency in nomenclature and definition too. In terms of name, it is often referred to as Cameroon Anglophone literature or Anglophone Cameroon literature. That notwithstanding, the focus of this paper is not the nomenclatural and definitional debates around this literature. For the sake of clarity and in order to avoid the nomenclatural debate, this paper has settled on Cameroon Anglophone literature.
Following the above discussion, it can thus be ascertained that Cameroon Anglophone literature is marginalized within Cameroon/Cameroun literature. Cameroon Francophone Literature and its scholars do impose themselves as a centre for the margin of Cameroon Anglophone literature. Drawing on Tande’s assertion that this literature is “vibrant but invisible”, one can add that it is a fertile but unadvertised and under-researched literature. Some earlier indications of the marginal position of Cameroon Anglophone literature can further buttress this point. Stephen Arnold (qtd Jumbam, 2006) had referred to Anglophone Cameroon, including her literature, as “the orphan of the Commonwealth”. Ashuntantang (2009b) and Gomia (2012) also quote Butake and Lyonga as having pointed to the same marginal position of this literature in an issue of ABBIA in 1982. Later, Buma-Kor (1993: 7) would describe it as “the Literature of the hunchback.”
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